The new Pebble Time Steel is much less complicated to use than a lot of the Android Wear-based smartwatches on shelves. And the Blaze, Fitbit’s second attempt at a fitness-centric watch, has a retro look and impressive activity-tracking features. Both watches have excellent battery life, something most of their competitors have not managed so far.As the name suggests, this smartwatch has an all-steel body. The version we reviewed had a 22mm Opera Red leather strap with a gold bezel—you can also choose from steel straps. The high-quality strap sits easily on the wrist. If you wish to change to a different-colour strap or even a metal band later, the quick-release mechanism makes it easy to do so.
The design is sleek—the watch face is 10.5mm thick. Marine-grade stainless steel has been used for the chassis and the bezel, and there is a physical vapour deposition coating, which is also used in aviation and automobile designs (it protects against oxidization).With its subtle design, the Pebble Time Steel is one of the most sophisticated-looking smartwatches on the market. Even the buttons look classy—there is one on the left side and three on the right.
The watch is water-resistant up to 30m, but remember, the leather strap will not hold up well under prolonged immersion. The 1.25-inch, full-colour e-paper display also has a Gorilla Glass layer to guard against scratches. It is not a touch screen; you will need to use the buttons on the sides to navigate the apps and menus on the display.The screen, however, is absolutely fantastic when it comes to visibility. The display remains on all the time, which means you can check the time without pressing any buttons, much as you would with a traditional watch. This feature is the primary reason why Pebble has not used an LCD or AMOLED display—either would have drained the battery quickly. Speaking of which, battery life is what makes the Pebble Time Steel truly smart—it lasts a week on a single charge.
Pairing the watch with an Android or iOS device, via the free Pebble app, is a breeze—and yes, the watch will notify you every time you get a new message, email or call on your phone. The buttons on the watch can be customized for quick tasks, which makes access to some features or apps quicker, and the updated software allows some apps to install and run on the watch itself; Uber, Runkeeper and ESPN are some examples. In addition, there are a bunch of watch faces to choose from.The only real shortcoming is Pebble’s basic, and sometimes inaccurate, fitness tracking. The step counter needs a software update to improve accuracy. At present, you’ll need to rely on a bunch of third-party apps to track your activity.The Fitbit Blaze’s retro look, sharp lines and wide screen stand out in the smartwatch crowd. It weighs just 41g despite the solid metal frame—the elastomer strap, available in black, blue and plum colours, helps keep the weight down. This is a simple-looking smartwatch that is comfortable to wear.
The 1.66-inch touch-screen display really impressed us. When you raise your wrist, the screen automatically switches on to tell you the time. The colours are rich, and it’s easy to read numbers on the screen quickly.However, you need to remove the watch module from the frame every time you need to charge it using the dock. While it is easy to dislodge and fit back, the problem is that one cannot really be sure how long the clicking mechanism will last—and once that goes, it is pretty much game over. Second, the Blaze isn’t water-resistant. While it can handle the odd splash or drizzle during your morning jog, it may not survive under the shower.
Fitness functions are the reason you would invest in the Blaze. The PurePulse heart-rate sensor allows it to monitor calories burnt more accurately than many other smartwatches. You can start activity-tracking for running, cycling, weight training, treadmill runs and elliptical workouts. The Fitbit smartphone app (free for Android and iOS) makes tracking activity a breeze, but the touch display on the Blaze offers all the data on the watch itself. Tracking accuracy is quite good during activities such as walking or running. However, because the Blaze is a watch and not a band, you have to wear the strap tightly around your wrist; if you don’t, it will throw off the step counter a bit. For instance, the iPhone’s Health app calculated I had taken 1,465 steps while the not so tightly fastened Blaze suggested I had walked 1,683 steps. Tightening the Blaze strap reduced that gap considerably. The Blaze inexplicably misses out on inbuilt GPS, relying instead on a paired smartphone to log location data.
The smart functions include texts on the wrist, notifications for incoming phone calls, calendar reminders and controlling the music on the paired phone. There are silent alarms as well, which can be very useful if you need to set up an alarm to wake you up in the morning without disturbing your spouse.The Blaze has excellent battery life—around four-five days if you also use it to track sleep at night, and around seven-eight days if you use it just in the day. What makes it appealing is that it can replace your fitness band while giving you all the functionality of a smartwatch.